The time for more diverse leaders in newsrooms is now

They say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But for the constellation of GroundTruth stars who are in Las Vegas for the twin National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference, we want them to bring home lessons learned and renewed energy in our commitment to diversity as a strategic priority.

Perhaps, the most important lesson is the one shared by NAHJ president Nora López during the opening ceremony: U.S. media is in desperate need of journalists of color in leadership roles: “We are powerful forces as Black and Brown journalists, united with purpose in our storytelling and elevating our membership into leadership roles to create lasting change,” said López.

Despite some progress in the last decade, most newsrooms in the United States still don’t accurately reflect the racial and ethnic composition of their audience, an imbalance that leaves entire communities without any coverage or with sporadic, harmful reporting rooted in stereotypes that often focus on the negative.

A recent survey of 12,000 journalists by the Pew Research Center found that reporters themselves are not happy with the diversity of their newsrooms. More than half (52 percent) of them said that their organization does not have enough racial and ethnic diversity, compared to 32 percent who think they do. This gap increases when accounting for generational differences: 68 percent of respondents between 18 to 29 believe there’s not enough diversity in their newsroom, compared to 37 percent of journalists 65 and older. The message is clear: leaders at news organizations have to put diversity at the center of their strategies.

We have weaved that mandate into our mission to restore journalism from the ground up by providing opportunities to journalists of color to work in local beats that cover their communities.

“Diversity strengthens newsrooms, so we’ve gone to great lengths to attract and build a diverse reporting and photography corps,” said Kim Kleman, senior vice president at Report for America in a recent profile of our program in Editor & Publisher. “Almost half of our corps members are journalists of color, and two-thirds are women. We’ve also brought in military veterans and are looking to attract more bilingual reporters to reach more communities.”

As the racial and ethnic composition of America changes, newsrooms need to have staff that can understand the challenges facing those communities, how policy or the lack of it affect their quality of life and how they contribute to strengthening the fabric of society. It is our goal not only to place reporters who can fill those gaps in newsrooms, but also to provide them with the tools to advance their careers so that after they finish our program they have the skills to become editors, executives or entrepreneurs if they wish.

As we have seen this week at the conference, and every day through the work of our corps members, there is an incredible pool of talent that can reshape the way news is covered in America. Help us provide them the opportunity to do so by supporting us.